Which tool for the job?

Replace the sewer--or just place a new lining inside?
Bury the stream--or leave an open channel? What kind of channel?
What kind of bank reinforcement is suitable to stop erosion?

With so many questions, it's been difficult to decide on the best way to repair our greenway.

I believe that the best way to proceed with our greenway is to ask:
"Which tools are most appropriate for the job?"

Excavator photo thanks to Hellagood

A brain surgeon doesn't use a chain saw. The surgeon chooses tools that will ensure a good outcome--she doesn't just grab whatever is lying on top of the tool bench.

I've heard residents say that the ravine is a treasured resource, and that they want it left much as it is now. Therefore, the central issue in assuring this outcome is choosing the size of equipment that will do the construction work without collateral damage. If the equipment is going to drive down the stream, then it ought to be no wider than the stream.

When the stream in Westmorland Park was buried two years ago, the power shovel was so large they first had to build a gravel road to support it. More trees had to be cut. Remaining gravel makes it harder to re vegetate the scar. In this case, the tail wagged the dog.

So I believe that limiting the size of equipment is the first step in planning. If the job can't be done with small equipment, then redesign the job so it can be done.

On Spaight Street, street reconstruction led the the destruction of many trees. This fiasco raised the question--how can the city request bids in a way that that penalizes contractors when they cause unnecessary damage to the environment? Defining the width of the construction corridor is an obvious solution.

This tiny power shovel (a John Deer 35D) sitting on Midvale Blvd makes tracks only 5'9" wide. That's about the average width of the stream in the greenway. Add a foot to allow the shovel to turn shallow corners, so the stream can be curved. Then require the contractor to construct a path only 6'9" wide. Build penalties into the contract to discourage the contractor from making the path any wider.

If present city regulations don't allow for this kind of bid request, then let's wait until better bidding rules are in place. After all, there's no emergency here.

Let's be creative. There are ways to move construction supplies around that don't require building gravel roads. For example, the photo below shows a simple motorized monorail used by farmers in Italy to move grapes out of vinyards on steep hillsides. It's not rocket science.

Photo thanks to Tom Ayres


Poll Results--Most Favor a Natural, Open Stream

When asked "What solution do you favor to problems of the Hillcrest-Upland Greenway," 14 of 27 people chose "Save open stream, as natural as possible, but upgrade sewage." Only one person supported the original City plan to bury the stream.

When asked "Which landscaping plan do you favor, assuming the stream is left open and the sewer fixed," 14 of 15 people chose "Leave stream as is but reinforce with stone and mortar."

You can see full details in the right sidebar, further down.

Exploring Downstream

Recently, Mary Norton and I decided to find out where our stream goes after it leaves the ravine. Its route underground is mysterious--Chris Schmidt says that it flows in pipes under Midvale Blvd. But just north of the corner of Merlham Dr. and Hillcrest Dr., we found another branch of the creek our stream feeds into. This branch flows, channelized by concrete, through backyards just W of Midvale Blvd.

View east from Merlham Dr. The curve looks very natural.
Mary and I climbed down, and ventured into the unknown. Ahead, we saw a Cooper's Hawk drinking from the stream. The surroundings were surprisingly pretty, despite the concrete walls and channel, which soon became straight as an arrow. We emerged after what seemed a long journey onto Midvale Blvd next to a bright red house. We were surprised to realize that we had gone only a block.
Headed north, or downstream. Less than an inch of water.
What we realized was that forgotten waterways are beautiful resources for the neighborhood, and habitat for wildlife. They could be a better resource if they were made more accessible. For example, steps are needed so people can get down. A bench or two for people to sit while watching the wildlife. Large, flat "stepping stones" would keep feet dry if the channel is wet.


What does it take to turn the Titanic?

On September 23, I noticed some new construction in my neighborhood, at the corner of Keating Ter. and Caromar Dr. It turns out workers were installing a new storm sewer of the old-fashioned variety--underground pipes.

But this particular project has an interesting story. Queen of Peace Church, with extensive roofs and a huge parking lot, is just a block upstream. More than half of the runoff for the new storm sewer comes from church property.

When there's heavy rain, you can see a torrent running out of the church's parking lot and down the street. I heard that one or more neighbors downstream complained that their properties were threatened by the runoff. The new storm sewer project is clearly planned to intercept and deal with this runoff.

But, imagine if instead, rain gardens had been built to deal with this problem. A small corner of the Queen of Peace parking lot could have been remodeled to create a large rain garden. It would be a wonderful project for the children in the school there, providing an example of good stewardship of neighborhood water resources. In addition, several more small rain gardens would be required to handle the runoff from the streets downstream from Queen of Peace.

What did the new storm sewer cost? I'm guessing maybe $10,000. Imagine what could have been done to create rain gardens with some of that money! Rain gardens would cost less than the new storm sewer. Our lakes and streams would benefit as well.

So why weren't rain gardens part of the solution? It seems like changing from the old way of thinking about storm water is like steering the Titanic. It doesn't turn on a dime.

It's too late to save the money--but it's not too late to build the rain gardens. Benefits: Improved water quality in the lakes, improved streamflow, beautiful gardens, and a project for children at Queen of Peace school.